Knocking off the first-place Toronto Raptors (53-19) at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday was one of the more meaningful victories of the campaign for the injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers (42-29), a team that has found it difficult to defeat elite competition since reshaping the roster at the trade deadline.
LeBron James was proud of his team's performance in the face of such adversity, overcoming a 15-point deficit at the half to emerge with a three-point win. He admitted afterward, though, that he wasn't necessarily gunning for Toronto in an effort to remind them of who the road to the NBA Finals goes through.
"It's a good win for us because of how depleted we are with our roster and everything that's been going on. It's a good win for us versus a very good opponent, but I don't need to remind anybody what my teams are capable of doing. So that wasn't a factor," James said.
The four-time league Most Valuable Player's passing was immaculate. He became the first player ever to score 35 points while recording 17 assists without turning the ball over a single time. James also shot 11-of-19 from the field and 12-of-14 at the charity stripe in 39 minutes of action.
The Cavaliers worked without the services of several key rotation players, including Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr., and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who is on an extended leave as he mourns the loss of his brother. Head coach Tyronn Lue is also away from the team as he deals with health issues.
Of the nine players who suited up, six scored in double figures. This included an 11-of-12 shooting performance from point guard George Hill, and a double-double of 23 points and 12 rebounds from Kevin Love, who made his second appearance since returning from a fractured hand.
Toronto and Cleveland have squared off in the playoffs each of the last two years, with their most recent series ending in a clean sweep for the Cavs in the second round of 2017.